16 Movies Like North by Northwest (1959)

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It’s a testament to Agnès Varda’s remarkable ability to glean so much raw beauty and truth from the world that this autobiographical documentary is such a rewarding watch, even for people unfamiliar with her. The Beaches finds the pioneering director in reflective mode as she looks back at her work and life, but her artistic impulses are by no means stagnant: she approaches the past with the same — if not more of the — generous candor and youthful spirit that colored her career.

It’s also a testament to Varda’s inimitable artistic touch that she turns a usually-bleak subject — mortality — into something this life-affirming. The Beaches was made when she was 81, aware of her own ticking clock and still nursing the decades-long loss of so many loved ones (chiefly, husband Jacques Demy). Just as her grief-stricken reflections don’t overwhelm the film with sadness, the whimsical impulses she indulges here — like constructing a beach on the street in front of her office — don’t blunt the sharpness of her candor. The overall effect is bittersweet and profoundly inspiring: as with the mirrors she places in front of the tide in the film's first scene, she’s showing us it’s possible to face the inescapable with a twinkle in your eye.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Agnès Varda, Gérard Depardieu, Harrison Ford, Jane Birkin, Mathieu Demy, Robert De Niro, Rosalie Varda

Director: Agnès Varda

Gosford Park inspired screenwriter Julian Fellowes to create Downton Abbey — but don’t let that association fool you, because this is no quaint, sentimental period drama but a scalding satire of 1930s England class relations (even though Maggie Smith does play a withering dowager countess here, too). Robert Altman, master orchestrator of ensembles, assembled a banquet of performers here, including Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Charles Dance as the well-to-do attendees of a hunting party on a grand estate. Working furiously to meet their every whim is the house’s domestic staff, played by such talents as Emily Watson, Helen Mirren, Kelly Macdonald, and Clive Owen.

The murder comes over an hour into the film, which ought to tell you about its real focus (Altman actually called Gosford Park a “who cares whodunnit”). In place of Agatha Christie-style intrigue is brilliant characterization and storytelling. Even at 137 minutes, 30-plus characters mean time is of the essence, but Altman and his actors miraculously find a way to convey a deep sense of each person — especially those downstairs. This tangle of rich lives never gets overwhelming, though, because Gosford Park is expertly paced. It’s nothing less than a joy to sit back and experience the masterful unraveling of its many threads, each more revelatory than the last.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Adrian Scarborough, Alan Bates, Bob Balaban, Camilla Rutherford, Charles Dance, Claudie Blakley, Clive Owen, Derek Jacobi, Eileen Atkins, Emily Watson, Emma Buckley, Finty Williams, Frances Low, Frank Thornton, Geraldine Somerville, Gregor Henderson-Begg, Helen Mirren, James Wilby, Jeremy Northam, Jeremy Swift, Joanna Maude, John Atterbury, Kelly Macdonald, Kristin Scott Thomas, Laura Harling, Laurence Fox, Leo Bill, Lucy Cohu, Maggie Smith, Meg Wynn Owen, Michael Gambon, Natalie Danks-Smith, Natasha Wightman, Richard E. Grant, Ron Webster, Ryan Phillippe, Sarah Flind, Sophie Thompson, Stephen Fry, Teresa Churcher, Tom Hollander, Trent Ford

Director: Robert Altman

Rating: R

IRA terrorists kidnap a British soldier to negotiate an exchange for one of their own imprisoned members. Among them is Fergus (Stephen Rea), whose ambivalence is amplified by his interactions with the hostage soldier Jody (Forest Whitaker) while guarding him. After the terrorists' plan goes awry, Fergus tracks down a woman Jody spoke of during his captivity, only to become confronted with even more complications.

The film, its cast and crew won a slew of awards and nominations in 1993, including the Academy award for Best Original Screenplay. It's a knockout. Each act presents an increasingly challenging psychological and emotional conflict for Fergus: conflicts that require him to question the choices he makes and his beliefs, even about himself. It’s a dark but deeply touching thriller that is ultimately unforgettable.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Adrian Dunbar, Andrée Bernard, Birdy Sweeney, Breffni McKenna, Bryan Coleman, Forest Whitaker, Jack Carr, Jaye Davidson, Jim Broadbent, Joe Savino, Miranda Richardson, Ralph Brown, Ray De-Haan, Stephen Rea, Tony Slattery

Director: Neil Jordan

The Sweet Hereafter is the kind of movie that feels very different from the one you might imagine when reading the plot synopsis. The tragic accident at its center doesn’t form a dramatic crescendo as you might be primed to expect — and, despite revolving around a lawsuit, this is no courtroom drama. Instead, the ironically titled The Sweet Hereafter deals with the messy, difficult emotions that come with grief, survival, and blame in the aftermath of a bus crash, with the film largely taking place in a snowy Canadian town rent apart by the loss of nearly all its children in the accident. Ian Holm plays the out-of-town lawyer battling to unite the bereft parents behind a class action lawsuit, all while struggling to deal with the quasi-loss of his own drug-dependent daughter. Non-linear chronology means the before-the-crash and the after intermingle, scene after scene; it’s an unorthodox remix of the way we’re used to seeing this kind of story unfold, but it allows the movie to home in on the complexity of the community’s pain. Unsparing performances, haunting music, and meditative cinematography plunge us into it all, recreating the terrible iciness of grief in a way that is difficult to shake off.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alberta Watson, Allegra Denton, Arsinée Khanjian, Brooke Johnson, Bruce Greenwood, David Hemblen, Devon Finn, Earl Pastko, Gabrielle Rose, Ian Holm, Kirsten Kieferle, Marc Donato, Maury Chaykin, Mychael Danna, Peter Donaldson, Sarah Polley, Sarah Rosen Fruitman, Simon Baker, Stephanie Morgenstern, Tom McCamus

Director: Atom Egoyan

Rating: R

An old friend shows up on the doorstep of a happy family home and brings a whirlwind of trouble with him. Charles Burnett’s startling parable is tinged with magic and creeping danger. It digs into the tensions between African American folklore of the rural South and the assimilated middle-class lifestyle out West. 

This rift takes the form of Harry, whose disquieting presence throws his old friend Gideon’s Los Angeles home into disarray. Danny Glover is captivating as the devilish visitor, delivering each line with playful ease and simmering menace. Burnett’s sly narrative doesn’t boil down to good and evil but instead offers a layered and enigmatic exploration of identity.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Carl Lumbly, Cory Curtis, Danny Glover, Davis Roberts, DeForest Covan, DeVaughn Nixon, Ethel Ayler, Jimmy Witherspoon, Julius Harris, Mary Alice, Paul Butler, Paula Bellamy, Reina King, Richard Brooks, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Sy Richardson, Vonetta McGee, Wonderful Smith

Director: Charles Burnett

In his last film, American Serb film historian Peter Bogdanovich celebrates silver screen legend Buster Keaton. The subject alone is compelling to watch. It would be easy to pull clips from Keaton’s works, dig through the headlines, pull in some celebrity interviews, and call it a day. However, in Bogdanovich’s hands, this documentary handles Keaton with respect. Instead of focusing on the scandals, Bogdanovich focuses on Keaton’s brilliant work. Instead of reciting facts, Bogdanovich highlights how his bits influenced film today. Excellent editing - cuts, structure, and scoring - helps us glide through Keaton’s work. The film truly understands Keaton’s life and exactly why he’s brilliant. Comprehensive yet very focused, this documentary honestly feels better than film school.

Genre: Comedy, Documentary, Drama

Actor: Ben Mankiewicz, Bill Hader, Bill Irwin, Buster Keaton, Carl Reiner, Cybill Shepherd, Dick Van Dyke, Eleanor Keaton, French Stewart, James Karen, Johnny Knoxville, Jon Watts, Leonard Maltin, Mel Brooks, Nick Kroll, Norman Lloyd, Orson Welles, Paul Dooley, Peter Bogdanovich, Quentin Tarantino, Richard Lewis, Tom Holland, Werner Herzog

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Rating: Not Rated

Widely regarded as one of the finest concert movies of all time, Stop Making Sense depicts musical innovators The Talking Heads at the height of their game. Directed by Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia), and starring the eccentric and energetic David Byrne, the show is a marvel of perfectly executed choreography and mid-eighties musicality. Halfway through the set, one might think they've heard all of the hits, but they keep coming and coming. Before Beyonce was Queen, before Bieber was conceived, this film shows what is capable with a camera, a guitar, and some genius.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Alex Weir, Bernie Worrell, Chris Frantz, David Byrne, Ednah Holt, Jerry Harrison, Lynn Mabry, Steven Scales, Tina Weymouth

Director: Jonathan Demme

Rating: PG

Man on Wire is a true technical masterpiece. You can almost feel the director telling the cameraman what angle to choose, or thinking about the questions that will generate the most resounding answers. However, this does not diminish the story this documentary tells one bit. It’s one that is glorious, riveting, and fun. It’s one where you feel like an insider to a world lived on and below wires, with high-stake risks. Hopefully the edge of your seat is comfortable, because this is where the movie will keep you till the very end.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Annie Allix, David Forman, Jean François Heckel, Jean-Louis Blondeau, Mark Lewis, Philippe Petit

Director: James Marsh

Rating: PG-13

Anyone who's seen All That Heaven Allows will naturally be skeptical that a movie claiming to be an homage to Douglas Sirk’s sumptuous masterpiece will live up to the heights of its inspiration. It’s a ballsy move, molding your film so closely to a peerless classic, but Todd Haynes transcends thin pastiche to be a genuinely great film of its own. Where Sirk’s movie charts the social scandal caused by an upper-class widow (Jane Wyman) falling in love with her gardener (Rock Hudson), Haynes sharpens the conflict by recasting the couple as an interracial one (played by Julianne Moore and Dennis Haysbert). What’s more, Haynes brings her husband back from the dead and into the closet to give Far From Heaven another angle through which to tackle the repression and stigma and explore the characters' rocky pursuit of happiness. If that sounds like the stuff of melodrama, it is — Far From Heaven is proudly of that genre, cracking through the veneer of suburban perfection to find roiling tension and repressed desire underneath.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Barbara Garrick, Betsy Aidem, Bette Henritze, Brian Delate, C.C. Loveheart, Celia Weston, Chance Kelly, Declan Baldwin, Dennis Haysbert, Dennis Quaid, Duane McLaughlin, Ernest Rayford, Geraldine Bartlett, J.B. Adams, James Rebhorn, Joe Holt, Johnathan McClain, Jordan Nia Elizabeth, Julianne Moore, June Squibb, Kevin Carrigan, Lindsay Andretta, Michael Gaston, Mylika Davis, Olivia Birkelund, Patricia Clarkson, Ryan Ward, Stevie Ray Dallimore, Susan Willis, Ted Neustadt, Viola Davis, Virl Andrick

Director: Todd Haynes

Rating: PG-13

A Room with a View is downright beautiful. Amidst the impressionistic scenery of Florence’s and England’s countrysides, paired with iconic classical opera, some of Britain’s best actors bare the feelings of their snobbish, upper-class characters in stylish and historically-accurate costumes. But all of these elements aren’t just silly decorations. Like the novel it’s based on, the characters’ refined and respectable veneer, and their insistence on propriety, is a front that hides the feelings stirring in their gut, particularly that of the lovers George Emerson (Julian Sands) and Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter). Inevitably, these feelings can’t be contained– they can only be examined. And when Emerson earnestly declares his love, it’s so powerful to be seen as one’s self rather than as decoration.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Amanda Walker, Daniel Day-Lewis, Denholm Elliott, Fabia Drake, Helena Bonham Carter, Isabella Celani, James Wilby, Joan Henley, Judi Dench, Julian Sands, Kitty Aldridge, Luigi Di Fiore, Maggie Smith, Matyelok Gibbs, Mia Fothergill, Patricia Lawrence, Patrick Godfrey, Peter Cellier, Peter Munt, Rosemary Leach, Rupert Graves, Simon Callow

Director: James Ivory

Rating: Not Rated

13 Tzameti is a unique suspense movie from Georgia and the debut of director Géla Babluani. This film explores the life of a migrant worker from Georgia working in France, who literally gambles his life in a high stakes game of chance organized by powerful criminals.  13 Tzameti won the World Cinema Jury Prize at Sundance in 2008, and of course, a not nearly as good American remake. Do yourself a favor and check out the original!

Genre: Action, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Augustin Legrand, Aurélien Recoing, Bruno Davézé, Christophe Vandevelde, Fred Ulysse, George Babluani, Jo Prestia, Olga Legrand, Pascal Bongard, Vania Vilers

Director: Géla Babluani

Rating: Not Rated

A young Steve Buscemi leads this wry farce about a calamitous film set where nothing goes right. The sardonic script skewers the ins and outs of low budget film production and the various personalities on set from belligerent directors, pretentious cinematographers, and egotistic actors. 

A playful three-act structure and trips into dream sequences keep things light, while a strong supporting cast, including a cheeky appearance by Peter Dinklage and the fantastic Catherine Keener, gives the film the backbone it needs. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Catherine Keener, Danielle von Zerneck, Dermot Mulroney, Hilary Gilford, James Le Gros, Kevin Corrigan, Lori Tan Chinn, Matthew Grace, Norman Fields, Peter Dinklage, Rica Martens, Robert Wightman, Steve Buscemi, Tom Jarmusch

Director: Tom DiCillo

Rating: R

A truly timely and difficult documentary, Deliver Us From Evil follows an interviewed confession of a Catholic pedophile. In addition, the film shows his victims, their coping strategies and lives as well as the extreme lengths the Catholic Church went to to cover up and enable the systemic rape of children. While often times hard to watch, this film shines a light into the dark corners of human behavior, forgiveness, sin and faith in a way that is both confronting and relatable.

Genre: Crime, Documentary

Actor: Adam, Oliver O'Grady, Pope Benedict XVI, Thomas Doyle

Director: Amy J. Berg

Rating: Not Rated

, 2020

Frank Zappa's creative scope could barely be defined -  a mix of rock, composition, design, and in his early days even filmmaking.  This documentary does its best to summarize the un-summarizable, starting with Zappa's last time playing guitar and going back to early details like an infatuation with explosives as a kid. 

Zappa's overwhelmingly full life is focused on the documentary in the study of his incredible work ethic and unique creative philosophy. Far from the drugged hippie perception he was often met with, Zappa was hard-working, business-aware, and didn't take drugs.

The manifestations of his exceptional intellect and unique character are abundant in a film that will please his fans and send anyone new to him into a deep Wikipedia rabbit hole.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Adam Curry, Adrian Belew, Ahmet Zappa, Al Gore, Alice Cooper, Arsenio Hall, Arthur Barrow, Aynsley Dunbar, Bill Wyman, Brian Jones, Bruce Bickford, Bruce Fowler, Bunk Gardner, Charles Manson, Chester Thompson, David Bowie, David Dondorf, David Harrington, David Letterman, David Raksin, Diva Zappa, Don Van Vliet, Dweezil Zappa, Edgard Varèse, Euclid James 'Motorhead' Sherwood, Frank Zappa, Gail Zappa, George Duke, Howard Kaylan, Ian Underwood, Jean-Luc Ponty, Jerry D. Good, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Carl Black, Joe Travers, John Belushi, John Lennon, Kathleen Sullivan, Kent Nagano, Lonnie Lardner, Mark Volman, Mick Jagger, Mike Keneally, Miss Mercy, Moon Unit Zappa, Nancy Davis Reagan, Nancy Reagan, Napoleon Murphy Brock, Pamela Des Barres, Patrice Zappa, Patrick O'Hearn, Peter Wolf, Pierre Boulez, Ralph Humphrey, Ray White, Ringo Starr, Ronald Reagan, Rose Zappa, Ruth Underwood, Scott Thunes, Steve Vai, Ted Koppel, Terry Bozzio, Tipper Gore, Tom Fowler, Tommy Mars, Václav Havel, Vinnie Colaiuta, Yoko Ono

Director: Alex Winter

Rating: Not Rated

The entirety of Pieces of April takes place on Thanksgiving Day, a busy holiday meant to bring loved ones together. Sure enough, April, the eldest Burns daughter, takes great pains to prepare a nice dinner for her visiting family. But we soon learn that she is motivated less by excitement than by dread: she's long been estranged, disowned even, by her uptight mother, Joy, who is only agreeing to come because she's sick with cancer. April seems to be on a reluctant mission to fix their fraught relationship, but pesky (albeit funny) mishaps, both on her and Joy's end, keep getting in the way. 

Shot digitally and very closely with hand-held cameras, Pieces of April looks as intimate as it feels. It's a snapshot of an era and of a particular family dynamic, one that relatably relies on both love and scorn to keep going. It's an excellent, honest, and underrated gem of a movie.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family

Actor: Adrian Martinez, Alice Drummond, Alison Pill, Anney Giobbe, Armando Riesco, Birdie M. Hale, Derek Luke, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Jamari Richardson, John Gallagher Jr., Katie Holmes, Leila Danette, Lillias White, Oliver Platt, Patricia Clarkson, Rusty De Wees, Sally Leung Bayer, Sean Hayes, Sisqó, Stephen Chen, Susan Bruce, Vitali Baganov

Director: Peter Hedges

Rating: PG-13